Cristo Rey Schools

By: Sandra L. Mitchell and Sajit Kabadi Issue: Education & Workforce Development Section: Inspiration

Transforming Urban Education One Student at a Time

Cristo Rey Schools The Cristo Rey Network® is a national association of Jesuit high schools endorsed and sponsored by 28 religious congregations and five archdioceses, that provide quality, Catholic, college preparatory education to students living in communities with limited educational options and generally lacking the resources for private education. By attending a Cristo Rey school, students have access to a Jesuit education at no cost, while gaining valuable work experience. Through a unique model, Cristo Rey schools are living their mission of transforming urban education one student at a time. The innovative Cristo Rey model utilizes a longer school day and academic year, academic assistance, and counseling to prepare students with a broad range of academic abilities for college.

The innovative Cristo Rey model utilizes a longer school day and academic year, academic assistance, and counseling to prepare students with a broad range of academic abilities for college.

Throughout their high school years, all students participate in a work-study program working in entry-level positions in a number of industries including banking, law, medicine, and finance. It is through these corporate work-study positions that students finance the majority of the cost of their education, while gaining valuable real-world job experience and self-confidence.

Cristo Rey schools recruit students who qualify for the federal free or reduced lunch program. These young people are from families with incomes that are less than 185% of the federal poverty level. All applicants to Cristo Rey schools complete financial aid forms, which allow each school to know the family income of each student. The Network schools follow a formula in which admitted students must come from families whose per capita income is no greater than 75% of the median per capita income of the city where the school is located or the national average, whichever is higher. The median family income for a Cristo Rey student is about $35,000.

To date there are 22 Cristo Rey high schools operating in the U.S., over half of which have opened in the last three years, enrolling more than 5,000 students. Schools exist in Baltimore, Cleveland, Chicago, Minneapolis, Omaha, Brooklyn, Detroit, Los Angeles and several other cities. The schools continue to grow with the two schools slated to open in the fall of 2009 and two more in the fall of 2010. One of the schools scheduled to open is Immaculate Conception Academy in San Francisco’s mission district. The school, which already enjoys the success of being the oldest all-girls school in San Francisco and has a very high graduation rate, will adopt the Cristo Rey model beginning in the fall of 2009, making it the first all-girls school in the network. Adopting this model makes the school accessible to a population for which a private high school education would ordinarily be out of reach. “Now,” says Anne O’Dea, Marketing Director for Immaculate Conception Academy, “it allows schools and students to see themselves as never before.” For Cristo Rey schools, the preference is always towards families that cannot afford a private school education.

The Cristo Rey Network since the inception of its first school in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood has raised more than $21 million through partnerships with 1,200 corporate sponsors. Corporate work-study covers 50-75 percent of students tuition cost. More than 1,000 work-study jobs have been provided by corporate sponsors and over $5 million in financial aid has been subsidized for students to attend Cristo Rey schools. Ninety-two percent of the students in Cristo Rey schools are students of color. The schools enjoy tremendous success with ninety-eight percent of Cristo Rey graduates enrolled in college at some of the most competitive colleges and universities in the U.S. Last year 550 students graduated from Network schools.

One success story is that of Andy Laureano, now a junior majoring in English at the University of San Francisco (USF). Laureano grew up on Chicago’s south side. He describes the Cristo Rey High School in the Pilsen neighborhood as “the only open door” he had in a community plagued by poverty and violence. He says that he was often approached by gang members in his neighborhood and while he was raised in a strong family, learning about college was something that he had to gain on his own initiative as is true of most students from first-generation [to attend college] families.

The corporate work-study program at Cristo Rey placed him at first at a law firm in the Chicago area and later with J.P. Morgan as they were merging with Chase Banks. He decided that although he enjoyed his work-study foray into the world of finance, he enjoyed working at the law firm’s mailroom more. He is now Pre-law with a particular interest in intellectual property. He continues to work for the same law firm - now for seven years - at the office that they opened in San Francisco. His determination to succeed continues to serve him well as a student leader at USF where he serves as a Resident Assistant and as a founder of a Latino fraternity which he hopes will begin working to create a scholarship for Latino students at USF. He plans to tutor next semester in San Francisco’s Mission district and serves as a resource to other Cristo Rey students including his younger sister who is a sophomore at the school in Chicago.

The relationship and range of support of Cristo Rey high schools and their students with various colleges and universities varies. Members of the Regis University community have been deeply involved in the planning and support of Arrupe from its very beginning through the Regis/Arrupe Partnership. Regis University housed and conducted the feasibility study necessary for the school’s opening in 2003 in a predominately Latino northwest Denver neighborhood near the university, which like Chicago’s Pilsen and San Francisco’s Mission neighborhood provided few opportunities for private high school education. Regis University’s president, Father Michael Sheeran wanted to provide these young men and women unique exposure to Regis University during their high school years and saw this partnership as a wonderful bridge for Arrupe students to attend Regis. This partnership also included providing financial resources, offering the Regis college campus infrastructure for Arrupe sponsored events and office space while renovations were completed at the high school location. These efforts have helped maintain close ties between the two communities, which is best exemplified by the Jesuits working at Arrupe and those residing within the Jesuit Community at Regis University.

Along with financial and logistical support, Regis also created many programs in collaboration with Arrupe specifically for the students to address their unique needs. It is a major priority of this partnership that Regis University invest in the Arrupe students early in their high school careers rather than wait until they are applying for college admission. An example of early interactions is the one-week workshop that allows students be exposed to college residence hall life, a sample of college course work, assistance in college application essays, extracurricular activities, and community service. Furthermore, the Regis/Arrupe Partnership Scholarships are determined by a staff of Arrupe and Regis officials that meets regularly to discuss analysis of family need, college readiness, and how much to allot to certain Arrupe students to meet their unmet financial need. During their first year experience at Regis, these students attend a one credit seminar course in which students learn about Regis University resources, receive additional advising, and are presented with strategies for academic and social success. Through these support programs, the Regis/Arrupe Partnership addresses the preparation and transition of these Cristo Rey Network students for their successful performance in college.

The Cristo Rey Network, through its relationships with corporate and educational partners, continues to provide quality education to students regardless of religious affiliation, race or socio-economic status where such opportunities may otherwise not exist, and in doing so will continue to use education to transform education and community’s one student at a time.

Sandra Mitchell is Assistant Provost for Diversity at Regis University. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Psychology and a Master of Education in Higher Education from Drake University. She is a doctoral candidate in Educational Leadership and Innovation at the University of Colorado at Denver. Her research emphasis is the institutionalization of diversity in higher education. Prior to her current appointment, she served as the founding Coordinator of Service Learning in the School for Professional Studies at Regis University. Before coming to Regis she served as coordinator of minority recruitment and retention in the College of Education at Iowa State University; Director of Academic Services at Morningside College in Sioux City, IA; Practium Coordinator for the School of Education at Drake University; Assistant Director of IOWANET/PSInetIn at Drake University and as a Job Coach at the Lifeskills Foundation in St. Louis.

Saj Kabati is a Doctoral Student at CU Denver with an emphasis on First Generation College Students and serves on the Board of Trustee at Regis Jesuit High School.